Category Archives: Medicare

Leaning into Failure: Race, Public Welfare, and Modern Conservatism

The Republican Party is lurching ever farther to the right, hunkering down into a narrower and narrower (white) constituency with an increasingly paranoid, fortress mentality. If we want to understand its appeal, and the dynamic that enables it to attack popular institutions like Social Security and Medicare without being substantially punished for it, we first need to face the root element of that appeal: racism.

Donald Trump has released his third budget, and once again, he broke his campaign promise not to touch Social Security. Once again, the largest vehicle for these cuts is what conservatives have come to regard as the soft underbelly of the system, Disability Insurance. Trump’s budget includes some $25 billion in “savings” from different aspects of Social Security, the largest of which is $10 billion from DI. And yet again, Trump and his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, say they’ll achieve the savings by mounting a strenuous campaign against “disability fraud.”

This is where it gets weird: funds lost through fraud are minuscule compared with the total size of the DI program, and it’s already extremely difficult and time-consuming for anyone to jump through all the hoops necessary to prove they qualify for benefits. Quite a few people die every year before their applications are approved (or not). Realistically, no huge savings will result from Trump’s anti-fraud crusade—but a lot of needy people will be inconvenienced or unjustly denied benefits.

Failure is not a problem when it comes to the budget priorities of the American right, however, because its ideological appeal to its audience is so intensely powerful. At no time, arguably, has this been more easily observable than today, when the president and his party make no pretense of speaking to anyone other than their most hardcore supporters. But what are the roots of this right-populist strategy, and how do they connect with long-time policies like dismantling Social Security and Medicare, which only draw really passionate support from the right and center-right wings of the policy-making establishment?

For some important clues to the answer, a good starting point is Unworkable Conservatism: Small Government, Free Markets, and Impracticality, by political scientist Max J. Skidmore, which appeared shortly after Trump took office and offers many valuable insights leading into the 2020 campaigns. Continue reading Leaning into Failure: Race, Public Welfare, and Modern Conservatism

Prospects for Millennials: What’s Wrong and What Can Be Done

Last month’s National Academy of Social Insurance conference highlighted the grim world Millennials are inheriting. It also gave a platform to some creative solutions that include expanding and creating new social insurance programs. Example: Universal Family Care.

As someone who researches and writes about history, I’m naturally skeptical of the concept of generations. For the most part, “generations” are arbitrary categories that lump together groups of people whose experiences of life are starkly different, muddling our ability to decide the best policies—and politics—for society as a whole.

For “Millennials,” however, I’m inclined to make an exception. The National Academy of Social Insurance made “Regenerating Social Insurance for Millennials and the Millennium” the theme of its annual policy conference at the end of January, and the event made a strong case that this is one generation with distinct needs and a distinct profile.

On the surface, Millennials are still a vastly disparate group. They are the most diverse cohort, ethnically, in American history, Jean Accius, vice president at AARP Public Policy Institute, pointed out in the conference’s opening panel—and this at a time when income and life prospects between racial groups in the U.S. are diverging. But the Academy framed its definition of Millennials—individuals born between 1980 and 2000—in a different and very useful way. What marks them, and colors their lives profoundly, Continue reading Prospects for Millennials: What’s Wrong and What Can Be Done

The realism of Berniecare

Ever since Bernie Sanders released details of his single-payer health care proposal recently, critics right and center have been on the attack against his “revolutionary, unaffordable and unachievable” scheme. In fact, for those who truly want to achieve universal, affordable health care, Sanders’ path is the only realistic way forward.

“Be reasonable: demand the impossible.” So said revolutionary Ché Guevara. [NOTE: I’ve since been corrected; the origin of this slogan was not Ché, but a graffiti encountered during the 1968 Paris uprising. Check it out here.] It’s a lesson much of the Democratic Party establishment needs to relearn this election year.

For instance, Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution. One of the country’s top experts on social insurance and health care financing and a smart political observer to boot, Aaron ran a piece in Newsweek recently that took apart presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s health care reform plan as being “radical in a way that no legislation has ever been in the United States,” vague on details, and technically unfeasible. It’s “a health reform idea that was, is, and will remain a dream,” Aaron writes. “Single-payer health reform is a dream because, as the old joke goes, ‘you can’t get there from here.’”

Continue reading The realism of Berniecare

Social Security’s future is being written in the streets of Ferguson

Bernie Sanders’s confrontation with members of Black Lives Matter should teach a lesson to everyone engaged in the struggle to defend Social Security: Unless the campaign for economic equality recognizes the need to prioritize racial equality as well—that racial and economic issues are not separate—preserving and expanding Social Security will become increasingly difficult.

In politics, context is everything. The most passionate advocacy, even for an utterly righteous cause, can sound presumptuous when the advocate ignores another issue more important to the same audience. Witness Sen. John McCain’s recent humiliating treatment by the Navajo, who chased him off their reservation on August 16, when he came to discuss a feel-good memorial to the World War II Code Talkers—but refused to address complaints that he had failed to protect tribal water rights or to oppose a copper mine that’s about to be built on Oak Flat campgrounds, an area of spiritual significance to the Apache.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Sen. Bernie Sanders recently received a similar lesson. On July 18, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a Netroots Nation forum in Phoenix Continue reading Social Security’s future is being written in the streets of Ferguson

The liberal critics of Big Government

What does it mean to be a “progressive” or “liberal” in America today? More than anything else, perhaps, it implies a determination to defend the signature achievements of the New Deal/Great Society eras: Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and a collection of related programs. And that’s just the problem, say their critics on the right: for progressives, government is the answer for everything. But are conservatives the only ones concerned about the growth of the administrative state—of bureaucracy? Should progressives be worried as well?

We’re used to conservatives, from Ron Paul to Rush Limbaugh, complaining about Big Government. Believe it or not, however, there was a time when liberals—social scientists, lawyers, some members of the Roosevelt administration, even the philosopher John Rawls—worried about the consequences of a liberal state built on regulation and government services and the people’s loyalty to the institutions responsible for them. Anne Kornhauser’s new book, Debating the American State: Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan, 1930-1970 (University of Pennsylvania Press), reintroduces the liberal critics of Big Government, arguing that their concerns are still relevant today, particularly since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency refocused concern on the surveillance bureaucracy.

Discussing the implications of her book for today, Kornhauser, a historian at City College of New York, ticks off a number of other areas where the New Deal institutions and their progeny are not fulfilling their expected role, including health care and regulation of the financial services sector along with national security. Continue reading The liberal critics of Big Government

The Meaning of Harry Reid’s Departure

For the last decade, Harry Reid has been a bulwark against efforts by Republicans and members of his own party to send the core of the New Deal achievement down the road to oblivion. Other Democratic lawmakers may be equally committed, but almost none have the same close emotional ties that he possesses to the Rooseveltian state.

When Senate minority leader Harry Reid announced last week that he won’t run for reelection in 2016, the first thing that flashed through my mind was his age: he’s 75. Only nine senators are older than Reid, and only two of them are Democrats. That underscores how few people still serving in the Senate were born during the New Deal, the period that formed the modern US government, with its social protections, administrative apparatus, and (not so happily) military-industrial complex. For the past 35 years, roughly corresponding to Reid’s career in electoral office, the legislation that Washington enacted during the Great Depression has been a war zone, Continue reading The Meaning of Harry Reid’s Departure

Mario Cuomo was not a “liberal beacon”

The former New York governor, who was laid to rest yesterday, is being mourned as a “forceful defender of liberalism.” In reality, he was a creator of the Democratic center-right and consistent supporter of anti-entitlement crusades.

For anyone who’s followed American politics closely for the past 40 years or so, the headlines following his death were enough to set your teeth on edge: “Mario Cuomo, Ex-New York Governor and Liberal Beacon” (New York Times); “Three-Time Governor; Liberal Leader” (Wall Street Journal). This image of the late politician is even enshrined in Wikipedia: “Cuomo was known for his liberal views and public speeches.”

None of this has much to do with the truth, or Cuomo’s place in history. Indeed, the notion that he was any kind of liberal stems almost entirely from a single speech he delivered at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. The substance of his career tells a different story. So let’s look at the facts.

Continue reading Mario Cuomo was not a “liberal beacon”

Social Security’s enemies, in search of the politically “doable”

In Washington, it’s fashionable to bill oneself as a pragmatist, attuned to political realities and more interested in finding politically doable solutions to practical problems than fighting unwinnable wars. But there’s a double standard in what The Village defines as “realistic.”

C. Eugene Steuerle is a bona fide member of the Washington policy elite. A former deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax analysis and a longtime fellow at the Urban Institute, he is considered one of the architects of the 1986 tax reform and, on the center-right, a Social Security guru. With two other think-tank researchers, Benjamin H. Harris at the Brookings Institution and Pamela J. Perun of the Aspen Institute, he recently co-authored a major paper for the Pension Research Council at The Wharton School on Social Security and retirement policy, titled “Entitlement Reform and the Future of Pensions.”

Continue reading Social Security’s enemies, in search of the politically “doable”

A momentous—and ominous—week for Social Security

The last week of June saw the effective end of DOMA and passage of a landmark Senate immigration reform bill. Both will widen access to Social Security, although the exact extent is still unknown. But it also saw the Supreme Court wipe out the enforcement mechanism for the landmark Voting Rights Act. The latter, unfortunately, will have a powerful if indirect effect on the future of Social Security, making last week less of a cause for celebration than it might have initially appeared.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the operative provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, opening the way for federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was an astonishing and welcome development for equal rights and social justice in America. It also represents the first major expansion of Social Security in 40 years. There are well over 130,000 same-sex marriages in the U.S. today—over 115,000 with children—and that number will no doubt burgeon as more non-traditional couples add the prospect of Social Security, Medicare, and other federal benefits into their personal finance calculations.

The just-passed Senate immigration reform bill represents, at least potentially, an even greater expansion, enabling millions of undocumented workers to start accumulating benefits under Social Security. There are a lot of ifs here: Continue reading A momentous—and ominous—week for Social Security

The Nobody-But-Ourselves-to-Blame Trip

If Americans can’t retire in comfort and relative security, who’s at fault? Increasingly, we’re being conditioned to point the finger at ourselves. It’s a brilliantly underhanded way to keep us from questioning the downsizing of successful, collective programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Every so often, the mainstream media anoints a new public intellectual—the big thinker who explains it all to us in newspaper or Internet columns, bestselling books, or on the Sunday morning chat shows. Sometimes they’re genuinely quite smart and insightful (Paul Krugman, Malcolm Gladwell), sometimes otherwise (David Brooks, anybody?).

The hottest new public intellectual may be Evgeny Morozov, a not-yet-30 scholar who has published two well-received debunking books, The Net Delusion, about the notion that the Internet promotes democracy; and To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, a broader-ranging attack on the belief that smart technologies and Big Data are the ultimate problem solvers.

Both books are needed antidotes to the grandiose claims being made for technology, and To Save Everything, in particular, is of vital importance to anyone concerned about the direction of public discourse on the looming retirement crisis in America. If you only have a few minutes, Continue reading The Nobody-But-Ourselves-to-Blame Trip